Our God Is Lord Alone
In Matthew’s Gospel an inquisitor asks Jesus the question, ʺTeacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?ʺ This was one of the Pharisees, a scribe, a ʺscholar of the law,ʺ and his reason for asking that question of Jesus was to ʺtestʺ him. His intentions were not those of genuine curiosity, but were rather rooted in a desire to find evidence that could be used against Jesus.
Mark handles this exchange differently. In his account of this moment he gives us an exchange between Jesus and a scribe who has been moved and impressed by Jesus’ teaching, and by the way that Jesus had handled previous questions. He asks, ʺWhich is the first of all the commandments?ʺ Jesus replies, ʺThe first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neghbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.ʺ The scribe sees clearly the wisdom of Jesus’ response and responds, ʺWell said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.ʺ Jesus sees that this man’s response is genuine and from the depths of his heart, and he tells the scribe, ʺYou are not far from the Kingdom of God.ʺ (Mark 12:28-34)
Are those not the words we all want to hear Jesus say to us: ʺYou are not far from the Kingdom of God.ʺ Mark has given us something else to think about here besides the bad intentions of the Pharisee in Matthew’s account. We do not see someone in Mark’s scribe who is trying to ʺtrickʺ Jesus, rather, we see someone who is more like us. This ʺscribeʺ has really been listening to Jesus. He has come to see Jesus a a true teacher, a new kind of teacher, who teaches with authority. He is also someone who has clearly been on a quest in his spiritual life to know God and his commandments. His heart, his mind, his soul, is open to the teaching that Jesus is giving here. He recognizes that Jesus is consistant with the prophets in this understanding of the commandments. He recognizes that the commandments are not merely legislative commands, but true, revealed, and universal wisdoms rooted in real life, in an universal and clear understanding of true, moral behavior. This ʺscribeʺ is, in other words, a man who has developed a humility worthy of an adult, and virtuous, character. Jesus rewards his humble understanding, and his recognizable faith, by telling him that, because of this, he ʺ…is not far from the Kingdom of God.ʺ
The teaching about the 2 Great Commandments as being the center, indeed, the whole of the law, is in both Matthew’s and Mark’s account. But Mark gives us, in his ʺscribe,ʺ a character that we can relate to, one that is, like us, on a real journey to deepen our knowledge and our understanding of God. It is this humble and curious nature of Mark’s scribe that we want to develop in ourselves, so that we, too, can hear Jesus say to us, ʺYou are not far from the Kingdom of God.ʺ
The truth is revealed in both Matthew and Mark. We must come to see that the quality of our lives, the happiness that we are looking for, the gift of our faith, are all uniquely tied to our understanding of these two Great Commandments. It is not just in our ʺseeing and understandingʺ the wisdom of Jesus’ response to the scribes in both accounts; it is in our living them out in our daily lives that will make it possible for Jesus to say to us, ʺYou are not far from the Kingdom of God.ʺ And these two Commandments cannot be separated one from the other. We cannot say that we love God if we treat our neighbor unjustly in any way. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves, in the fullest sense, unless and until, we know, understand and love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. For, ultimately, it is our deepening understanding of God’s love for us that empowers us to love ourselves and our neighbor in all of our actions and words. When we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength, we will be unable to do anything less than to love our neighbor as ourselves. Then, like Mark’s scribe, though we may not be there in the perfect sense, yet, we will not be ʺfar from the Kingdom of God.ʺ Is this not the deepest hope of every Christian?
Let us pray: Come, Lord! Make of my heart your home, so that I might know you more clearly, and love you more dearly, with all of my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength, and so that I might more truly love my neighbor as myself. For I long to enter your Kingdom now and always. Amen